What does it take to be a college receiver?

It's not all about height, hands, speed and other physical qualities. Coaches often look beyond the numbers to get players that fit into their offensive systems.

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What can't be argued is this: Western Pennsylvania, uncharacteristically, has a tremendous assemblage of talented high school wide receivers this year.

Toney Clemons, Nick Sukay, Jon Ditto, Derek Moye, Dom DeCicco, Fitzgerald Bobo and Tim Cortazzo -- all of them game-breakers; each a player who can quickly shift the direction of a contest.

But isn't calling this crop "good" or "solid" or "stellar" a bit of a generality? Sort of an all-encompassing adjective that fails to provide much depth?

So, what is it that opens the eyes of the college recruiters? When they pore over hours and hours of film and head out to high school football fields across this country trying to find the next Larry Fitzgerald, what is it that the college coaches are looking for?

Is it Stickum-type hands? Perhaps deft footwork as a receiver runs routes? Is it a quickness that allows the receiver to get off the line of scrimmage? Or, maybe all the physical traits are superseded by what's between the ear pads.

More likely it is a combination of those things.

There are certain characteristics that separate great players from the innumerable receivers who never cause a blip on the radar screens of major-college recruiters.

First, there are the hard numbers. Pitt wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill, a former wideout at Florida who helped the Gators to three Southeastern Conference championships, knows what draws the initial interest.

"As a coach, the general standards are what sort of first opens your eyes to a recruit," he said. "Things such as height and weight and their [40-yard dash] time and how well they can catch the football."

Tom Bradley, Penn State's defensive coordinator who recruits Western Pennsylvania, also subscribes to a simple formula when weeding through candidates who might warrant a closer look.

"I would say just overall athleticism is the most important quality," he said. "I mean, if you can catch, but can't run, that's a problem. Or if you can run, but can't catch, then that's a problem."

Arriving at top-shelf level is more than just impressing by the measures on a stopwatch or how a player looks in a tank top and mesh shorts.

To reach premier status, as this year's top WPIAL receivers have, things are more in-depth than, say, running down to the green Buick and doing a button-hook.

At Pitt, that is accentuated.

"For our program, you have to learn so many formations and concepts because we run an NFL system," Hill said. "There are so many different reads and different things you have to learn. If there's a situation where young kids struggle to make an adjustment, that is where it shows up most.

"Simply put, you have to be a sharp tack in order to be able to get on the field here as a receiver."

West Virginia receivers coach Butch Jones initially looks for something not found on game film when he's pursuing a youngster.

"The personal traits," he said. "That's what I'm looking for. What is their work ethic like? What kind of person are they? What are their personality traits? To me, it all starts there and then gets into their physical abilities."

And the student-athletes seem to know what the recruiters want.

"I would probably say that running good routes is the most important aspect of being a receiver," said Moye, one of Rochester's most heavily recruited players in years. "There are receivers in the NFL who aren't too fast or too tall, but they know how to get open and make catches because they run good routes."

Clemons, one of the finest pass-catchers to play at Valley in recent memory, holds steadfast to his belief that listening intently and showing the drive to constantly get better is half the battle.

"I think being coachable is the biggest thing," he said, "You have to be knowledgeable, but always open to things like new ways to run routes. If you think you know everything already, you won't get any better."

While receivers make their marks on the edge and are customarily built less like a Peterbilt and more like a Lotus, college coaches also want them to show a sizable amount of grit. Coaches don't want receivers who back down from the tussles that ensue for open space or fail to throw the punishing block, sending a defender skidding on his backside across the turf.

"We always say as a staff that we want to look at a kid we are recruiting and feel comfortable saying, 'That kid is a football player,' " Hill said. "A lot of time, yes, what they do at camps can give you an idea in terms of the tests and drills they go through in a camp situation.

"But when it comes down to it, too many people get caught up in the straight numbers and, to me at least, I need to look at a kid and say, 'This kid is a player; he's going to show up when it's game time.' "


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Colin Dunlap can be reached at cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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